Town had a day to forget in South East London this afternoon, with hosts Millwall putting four past the Terriers to condemn Simon Grayson’s men to their heaviest defeat of the campaign.
The men in red created several presentable chances during the 90 minutes and could have easily changed the complexion of the game if they had taken just one, but instead the clinical hosts took their best chances and pulled away when they made it 2-0 – helped by the late dismissal of Jack Hunt for dissent.
Grayson had made three changes to his side for the game at a windy Den; with James Vaughan injured in training in the week, Lee Novak returned to the starting XI alongside midweek goalscorer Adam Hammill and the fit-again Joel Lynch.
The game started in even fashion, but Town crafted a presentable chance inside the second minute when new left back Lynch found Danny Ward down his flank; Wardy skipped past the sliding challenge of the giant Millwall Captain Danny Shittu before delivering into the middle, but the ball dropped just behind Lee Novak and he could only steer his shot over the crossbar.
At the other end, Millwall’s physical central midfielder Liam Trotter was foraying forward to try and pick up knock-downs from the powerful front pairing of Henderson and Wood and he managed to do just that in the fourth minute – but he volleyed the ball high and wide.
Town’s players frequently picked the ball up in the opposition’s final third but were being constantly thwarted by a poor final ball or good Millwall harrying from the likes of the athletic Jimmy Abdou or on-loan Sheffield Wednesday centre half Mark Beevers; Beckford’s 25 yard shot in the 6th minute was one of many shots that that pairing sent wide of target.
Most of the Lions’ good play came as a direct result of the mobility and strength of their top scorer Henderson and he found Wood with a clever sideways flick in the 17th minute, but the New Zealand international took his shot on early and blasted off target from range.
Grayson’s team forced a succession of corners at the mid-point of the opening 45 minutes but couldn’t convert – and were made to pay in the 28th minute when the hosts opened the scoring.
A driving forward run from Trotter ended with the ex-Ipswich man finding the run of Henderson into Town’s right channel and the big striker steadied himself before supplying a superb ball across the face of the six yard box, where Chris Wood had muscled his way in front of Anthony Gerrard to prod the ball between the legs of Smithies from close range.
With Adam Clayton – playing in a more central midfield role than in recent weeks – becoming an increasingly influential figure as the half progressed, the Terriers looked for a way back into the game and created their best chance of the opening 45 just minutes after Millwall’s goal. Good movement from Lee Novak gave Jack Hunt the option of a ball into the right channel and when Novak stood a cross up towards the back post, Beckford’s downward header put the ball perfectly into the path of the onrushing Keith Southern. Unfortunately for the Terriers, the midfielder couldn’t control his shot and the ball flew over the bar from around 12 yards out.
Quick thinking from Hammill and Clayton created another good chance at goal before the end of the half; the Town pair took a quick free kick down the right and when Clayton crossed to the back post, Beckford’s brilliant dummy completely sold the defender. Beckford instead controlled the ball and opted to take on the shot early, but he placed the ball wide of the near post.
Town came out of the traps well after Simon Grayson’s team-talk and bossed possession for the next 15 minutes. Sadly they failed to test Millwall goalkeeper David Forde during their good period – but they should have done through Lee Novak in the 49th minute.
Left back Lynch went past winger Henry and crossed expertly to the near post where Novak managed to shrug off a defender, but from a narrow angle at close range he screwed his shot badly wide and the chance petered out.
Adam Hammill was his usual lively self but his 55th minute penalty appeals were turned down by well-placed referee Graham Scott after it was suggested Henry pulled him down just inside the area.
Millwall showed their clinical edge just after the hour mark when they made it 2-0. Town forced a corner down the left side but when Shittu headed clear it set winger Henry into the clear. He dribbled unopposed until the edge of Town’s penalty area when he drew the last defender and slipped the ball right to Chris Wood, who cleverly lifted the ball over the charging Smithies in expert fashion to grab his second of the game.
Town tried to fight back, with Hammill coming the closest. His 68th minute volley hit a crowd of players inside the penalty area before a long range volley late in the game hit the top of the net with Forde scrambling.
However, in truth the Lions took control after the second goal. First Lowry volleyed wide at the back post from a corner and then in the 79th minute Millwall made it three; with Lynch on the floor injured substitute Paul Dixon tucked inside to cover and Wood cleverly played the ball into the vacated space to the left of Town’s area for James Henry to take aim and fire powerfully into the bottom corner.
A poor day was compounded for Town when Jack Hunt received the first red card of his Town career with five minutes left. The right back felt he had been pulled down by Henderson as the big striker got goal-side of him before rounding Smithies and firing just wide from an acute angle, but Jack protested too strongly for the official’s liking and was shown a straight red card for his transgression.
A miserable day in South East London was compounded with two minutes left when Liam Trotter picked up the ball on the right edge of Town’s penalty area, dummied his way past two Town players and curled the ball accurately around Smithies and into the bottom corner.
Town’s team (4-4-2):
Alex Smithies; Joel Lynch, Anthony Gerrard (Paul Dixon 63), Peter Clarke (c), Jack Hunt; Danny Ward (Sean Scannell 69), Keith Southern, Adam Clayton, Adam Hammill; Lee Novak (Oliver Norwood 82), Jermaine Beckford
Ian Bennett, Calum Woods, Alan Lee, Anton Robinson
Town booking: Joel Lynch 42
Town red card: Jack Hunt 85
Millwall booking: Alan Dunne 54